The Tattooed Lady of Riverview

Tom Palazzolo documents "The Tattooed Lady of Riverview," part of the freak show in the waning days of Chicago's Riverview amusement park.

01:40Copy video clip URL Slate

01:48Copy video clip URL Fade-in to a dilapidated parking entrance sign for Riverview Park.

01:54Copy video clip URL The Pair-o-Chutes lifts riders into the air. Various attractions, amusement park decorum, and vacant entryways appear. An older man sits alone on a bench. A younger man swings a mallet on a pivoted lever in a high striker game.

02:48Copy video clip URL Two riders sit in the front car of a roller coaster car, climbing to the top of its run. The car descends and the perspective shifts. The roller coaster’s drop repeats from various angles, following sequential undulations.

03:43Copy video clip URL The “Freak Show” stage appears. A narrator recounts the origin story of the Tattooed Lady of Riverview, or “The Story of How I Became the Tattoo Queen.” The story centers on the life of Jean Furella Carroll, who claimed to be one of the few genuine bearded ladies in the circus. Having fallen in love with a man who agreed to stay involved with her on the condition that she shave her beard, Carroll consulted the famed sword swallower Alex Linton, who suggested she get tattoos in exchange for shaving her beard so that she could continue in show business. Images of a man handling a sword, body tattoos, a woman with a mirror, and scenes of rides in the amusement park, either in operation or still and vacant are shown alongside the narrative.

05:41Copy video clip URL Photo of Jean Furella Carroll tattooed and beardless. Collage of twirling rides and circulatory motions in various rides and games across the amusement park. Machine gun fire and the roar of airplane engines overlay images of various rides in motion. A shaking, tunnel-like image looking backwards toward the blurred faces of riders. With the sound of an engine increasing in pitch and nearness, a panoramic view of the piled wreckage of lumber from a demolished roller coaster after Riverview Park was closed in 1967. A vacant roller coaster car descends on a track and the mimic of a free-fall descent from the Pair-o-Chutes.

07:20Copy video clip URL Jean Furella Carroll narrates the introduction to her performance. On stage, she slowly reveals her more than 700 tattoos. “To your amazement,” she says, “you will gaze upon a body that’s pretty well covered with all beautiful works of art.” She then briefly describes the content, depiction, and narratives behind some of her more prominent tattoos. She claims to have one of the largest ink designs ever placed on a human body.

09:37Copy video clip URL A narrator relates John Carson’s story of his attraction to Jean Carroll and ambivalence to being physically intimate with Carroll and her beard. Porcelain figurines of a dog and human doll appear. Two women check out photo booth pictures and ride a stationary horse that bucks up and down.

10:38Copy video clip URL The narrator changes perspectives, describing Jean Carroll’s reaction to telling her own story. More images of Jean Carroll showcasing her tattooed body. She describes her dilemma of being one of the few genuine bearded ladies in show business, yet loving John Carson, who would become her husband. More ambient scenes from Riverview Park in operation.

11:39Copy video clip URL First-person perspective of evening and nighttime rides on a roller coaster and Ferris Wheel. Rotating neon lights of carnival rides at night interweave and imbue the shadowy figures of Riverview attendees strolling along the park’s esplanades. A melody from the ending of The Beatles’ “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!” fades in along from ambient sounds of park attendees. A woman examines herself through a hand mirror.

13:56Copy video clip URL The narrator continues, describing the moment of Jean Carroll’s first kiss and her engagement to John Carson.

14:31Copy video clip URL A man’s arm, half shaded in darkness, shows the words, as if tattooed, “Tom Chicago” and “Tattooed Lady.” An announcer makes concluding remarks from the Riverview Park’s Freak Show.

15:05Copy video clip URL “Popeye,” another character from the Freak Show.

15:19Copy video clip URL Closing credits



  1. Steve rognas says:

    Anything you can do to digitize this would be AWESOME! I enjoy anything related to Riverview Park.
    Thank you for the archive. I enjoy browsing through it.

  2. Sunny Buick says:

    Please digitize!!!

  3. Linda V says:

    I knew all these people when I was a kid. My friends mother was the alligator lady. I was able to go back into the break tent with her all the time. The “freaks” were a great crowd of people. I remember the bearded lady talking about getting rid of it to become the tattooed lady because he hubby hated it.
    I write fiction under Linda Vanek and have been thinking about writing a thriller about those days

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